This article examines the contentious topic of participation through the lens of a collaborative arts-based project on migration in Morocco. We call for the ethnographic exploration of photographic encounters: that is, participant observation of the processes of shooting, selecting, editing, preparing and exhibiting of photographs and films. First, we explore the need to identify barriers to participation and reflect on the role of researchers. Second, we stress how participatory arts-based workshops can confront Othering stereotypes amongst participants from diverse background. Third, we challenge social scientists’ tendency to prioritize process over product by considering public encounters as integral to participatory processes.